Zinc supports many body functions, including immune function
Daily zinc requirements depend on age and life stage, but most adults need between 8-11mg per day
Zinc-rich foods include oysters, beef, dark meat poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, some dairy products (like cheese and yogurt), and fortified cereals
The body doesn’t absorb zinc from plant-based food sources as well as zinc from animal-based food sources
Did you know that, after iron, zinc is the second most common mineral found in the body? As an essential nutrient that is important for the immune system, zinc tops the list of key nutrients that you need to stay healthy.
The bad news: Your body can't make zinc on its own, so you must obtain this essential nutrient through food or supplements.
But why is zinc important? How much of this key nutrient do you need? And what foods are high in zinc? Read on to learn more about zinc and which dietary zinc foods should be on your plate.
Why is Zinc Important?
Before diving into specific, zinc-rich foods, it helps to understand why you need zinc in the first place. As an antioxidant, zinc helps guard the body’s cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, which may contribute to aging and health problems. Zinc is also well-known for its immune system support, which is why you see supplements including zinc lozenges at the pharmacy. What other health benefits does zinc provide? [1,2,3,5]
Supports healthy immune function
Helps the body’s senses of taste and smell function properly
Supports healthy growth and development, especially during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood
Supports reproductive function
Plays a role in cell growth and cell division
Maintains healthy vision
What Foods are High in Zinc?
Because zinc is found in a wide variety of both animal and plant foods, most people can get all the zinc needed by eating a healthy diet. However, although fruits and vegetables do contain zinc, they’re not good sources for this key nutrient. Why? Because they also contain phytates (which inhibit zinc absorption), so the body can’t use plant-based zinc as well as zinc from animal foods. Therefore, if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or follow a low-protein diet, know that these eating plans tend to be low in zinc.
So, what foods have zinc? Good dietary sources of zinc include: [2,4,7]
Shellfish (especially oysters, but also crab, lobster, mussels, shrimp)
Red meat (such as beef, pork, and lamb)
Poultry (dark meat contains more zinc than light meat)
Fortified foods (such as fortified breakfast cereal)
Here are a few specific examples of foods and their zinc content: [3,7]
Zinc (in milligrams)
Beef chuck roast
Ground beef (90% lean)
Fortified cereal (whole grain toasted oats)
Turkey (dark meat)
Pork loin roast
Soybeans (dry roasted)
Roasted chicken (dark meat)
Yogurt (plain, low-fat)
Sunflower seed kernels
Grade A, Large
Of course, the best way to get adequate zinc intake is to eat a balanced, healthy diet. However, if you don’t get enough zinc in your diet, consider taking supplemental zinc tablets or a multivitamin. These dietary supplements may contain variations of this mineral, such as zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, or zinc acetate. 
As mentioned earlier, most people can get adequate zinc intake from dietary sources. However, genetic disorders, such as acrodermatitis enteropathica, cause some people to have low zinc levels. This inherited condition impairs the body in its ability to use and transport zinc effectively. Other people have zinc deficiency because of certain medical conditions and other risk factors.
As an essential nutrient, zinc plays an important role in many body functions, including antioxidant and immune system support. You can boost your zinc intake through dietary sources of zinc-rich foods and zinc supplementation. Zinc is found in a wide variety of both animal and plant foods, but the body doesn’t absorb zinc from plant-based food sources as well as zinc from animal-based food sources. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, beef, dark meat poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy products, and fortified cereals. Consult with your healthcare provider to see if taking a zinc supplement is right for you.
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As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.